Sometimes I imagine how I wake up before dawn, wash my face, and tie my hair in a bun. I don’t eat, I don’t check my phone, I don’t wake anyone up. I put sports shoes on, go out of the house, and start running. The sun is not yet out, but it’s light and warm — must be summer. The city is so deserted and quiet I can hear my own footsteps. I can feel the wind on my face. I can almost sense how every stressful thought, every troubling idea is leaving my head. I breath in and out, steadily. I am calm, tranquil even. Too bad I hate running.

I wish I were the kind of person who loves running. But the second my stroll turns into a jog, no matter how slow and leisurely, my brain screams: “This is awful! Stop it!” So I do.

There are quite a few things I wish I was into, but I am just not. Candles, for example. If only the smell of Joyful Jasmine or Fluffy Towels (I didn’t make these up) made me instantly relaxed! But it does nothing for me. From time to time I buy candles in hopes that I will become that girl you see on Instagram around Christmas: the one who’s reading a book on the windowsill, wrapped in a cosy blanket, hot chocolate in hand, a candle that probably smells of Frosty Gingerbread (also, real) emanating warm light. But I am not her.

I am the girl who reads from the screen of her phone late at night. And just before her eyes close and the phone falls out of her hand, she reaches out to smell her newborn baby, and that is a million times better than any candle could ever be.

I also wish I loved jewelry. I do love to look at jewelry, preferably on other people. But when it comes to accessorizing myself, I simply forget. And when I don’t forget, I am too lazy. And when I am not lazy, I feel like every ring and bracelet weighs me down like a rock. 

The only piece of jewelry I’ve been wearing every day for the past 22 years are gold earrings mom gave me. They were a present to her from my dad, presumably, around the time I was born. The only problem: her ears weren’t pierced. So she kept them in a jewelry box until I pierced mine. And from that day onwards I never took them off. 

They are a clear giveaway of my heritage. Petite intricate gold earrings instantly reveal that I am from Russia. Once, in Germany, I was passing a hair salon when the woman on its doorstep looked into my face intently and proceeded to speak to me in Russian. Because of the earrings. That’s how I found my hairdresser. Or, rather, how she found a client.

But back to running. I am reading Anxious People by Fredrik Backman at the moment. It’s so good it’s scary: I am highlighting not just sentences and paragraphs, but whole pages. When I highlight passages in books it is for two reasons and with two colors: blue when I love the essence, yellow when I am in awe of the wording. Yesterday I highlighted the following in yellow: “Some men run like hunters, but he ran like their prey”. I wish I had written it. I wish I could put 11 words together to convey so much. Alas, I am not there. Yet.

Once I got over the fact that I don’t write so brilliantly I thought of the last time I ran. Just like in my imagination, I woke up before dawn. Not of my own volition, though, but because Kroshka, my son, decided so. We were almost a year into pandemic and a full year into being first time parents with no support system. In other words, it was around the time when I was the most exhausted I’ve ever been in my life.

I desperately needed at least half an hour a day to be alone. So one morning, as soon as we woke up, I asked my husband to watch Kroshka and went for a walk. Unlike in my imagination, it was dark and cold outside — mid-December in Germany. It was not quiet either — children hurried past me to the school down the road. I shut off the outside world with Taylor Swift’s Willow that had come out a few days before.

Hands in pockets, face tucked into the collar of my jacket, I walked to the park nearby. It has to be said that I love walking. I also love swimming which has always puzzled me. How can I enjoy swimming back and forth constrained by the walls of the pool, but find running boring and monotonous? 

Anyways, I’m at the park, walking at a brisk pace, feeling so good to be completely alone, breathing fresh air, signing “Life was a willow and it bent right to your wind oooooooh” aloud. I start walking a little faster and a little faster still. And then I suddenly know that I have to run. Not that I want to run, but I have to run, otherwise I will trip. My upper body is way ahead of my legs and if my legs don’t start moving at full speed, I will fall on my face. My brain took a second to catch up with my body’s impulse and then I ran. 

“Well, this is stupid. I don’t even like running” I thought, still running as fast as I could, which is not very fast. But the truth is, in that moment, I loved it. I felt the weight of the world drop from my shoulders. I was free from responsibilities, if only for half an hour.

You know the feeling when you are wearing headphones and all of a sudden your life is a movie and the song blasting in your ears is a soundtrack to it? That was it. I was the heroine of my own show, running in slow motion to the tunes of Taylor Swift. It was amazing. For the whole of five minutes. Then I slowed down, panting, and walked the rest of the way. 

I was about to write that this was an out-of-body experience, but it was, in fact, the opposite. I was very much in my body and out of my head, a rare occurrence. Did I run like hunters or like their prey? I’d describe it differently. I ran like a woman who spent too much time between four walls during lockdown. Like a woman who didn’t have a full night’s sleep for a year. Like a woman who every Monday morning promised to finally start working out, but only had the energy for Netflix by the evening. I ran like a woman who, nevertheless, found the strength to get up every day and find joy in the mundane, to feed and rock to sleep, to console and cheer on. Like a mother, in other words.